Our Plastic Seas and Nauru

Neil beat me to the punch on this wonderfully bizarre article on these massive floating islands of trash in the Pacific. I saw it earlier and thought it was a marvelously morbid tale. But I’d heard something about these islands a long time ago on a great edition of This American Life, and so I thought I’d post about it. The story takes us there, to these Texas-sized mid-oceanic dumps, but the second story here is the one I also think you should hear because it is one of the best radio stories I’ve ever heard.

The story is by the writer Jack Hitt and tells the tale of the island of Nauru. Nauru is one of those places that is literally in the Middle of Nowhere, but even though it is far away and hardly anyone has ever heard of it, the island’s story touches us all, in a way. The island was a key source of guano in the early century, when the Germans and others used the guano for phosphates in order to make gunpowder and other products. During a short spell, the island became awash in guano wealth, or guano dollars. But once bird turds were no longer used for this purpose because other synthetic and otherwise sources of phosphates were developed, the island went into serious decline.

Now it is a wasteland with yet another story attached: the story of Afghan refugees. I believe the story of the refugees has been resolved, but the way it is told here and the deeper history if Nauru just described makes this a fabulous Friday listening experience.